There’s been a lot of talk lately about how phones with mp3 functionality will inevitably take over the mp3 player market. Consolidation seems to be the word. The folks at Geeks.com sent us the US edition of the (unlocked) Nokia 3300 mp3 phone — one of the first of its kind — and we put it to test.The Good
The Nokia 3300 is a dual band 850 MHz/1900 MHz phone, utilizing the Series 40 user interface (version 1.0), which is Nokia’s home-brewed solution and OS (non-Symbian). The phone sports a 128×128 4096 color dual-scan screen and the US version comes in two colors: orange and blue. It comes with a 64 MB MMC card pre-installed but it supports MMC cards up to 1 GB. The phone mounts as a USB storage device on any operating system and so you could use the phone as an ordinary storage device! Of course, the main feature of the phone that makes it special is its mp3/aac playback capability, its FM playback and recording capability and its full-fledged keyboard.
The phone has a “music” button that will automatically start playing the first AAC or mp3 song in a playlist (.pls and .m3u are supported). Pressing the music button again will load a menu with options for music playback, FM radio or switching off the current music. The phone comes from the factory with seven 30-second songs as a demo. In our test the internal player was able to read mp3 tags, but when a song did not have tags in it, the song would show up as blank in the screen, not even the filename would appear instead.
There are no progress bars when playing a song, but you can easily move from one song to another using the four-way button on the phone which allows for “stop”, “play”, “next song”, and “previous song”, while long presses of the same button can move the playback to a different segment of the same song. On the top right of the phone there is a volume button that allows changing the volume of both the loudspeaker (which is of pretty good quality), the earphones and the internal speaker. The quality of the headset is not bad, but it’s not that great either: the stereo headset only has one earphone (for safety reasons), which brings the experience down a bit.
The FM radio works very well, and was able to receive all the local channels, preset our favorite channels and even record directly to the MMC card. Using the recording line-in port we were even able to record from a CD audio source into AAC format.
Regarding the phone as a… phone, this is a normal 128×128 Nokia Series 40 phone. Nothing more, nothing less. Many features, many choices in the menus, including a WAP/XHTML browser (limited only by the huge fonts used…), IM instant messaging, MMS and SMS support, a calculator, an organizer, an image viewer, a voice recorder, email, voice commands, a countdown timer, a stopwatch. On the hardware side, the phone has vibration, a DKU-2 data cable, a boom headset, a 2.5 hours talk time, 9 days on standby, about 9 hours of mp3 playback and about 11 hours of FM radio. We used the phone with AT&T/Cingular and we had very good reception (the 3300 has much better reception than my older SonyEricsson T310).
My personal favorite feature of the phone is its keyboard. It makes SMS or emailing a real breeze. I was able to type on it much faster than I do with the Zaurus 5500’s own thumb-board. The keys feel good, and they give you a good feedback if something was pressed or not.
The phone also supports Java games and applications (MIDP-1.0). It comes preloaded with 4 games, but I installed a few more too. The screen is dual scan and so fast action paced games (e.g. shoot’em ups) will look “dizzy” but slow paced games (e.g. puzzles) look great. The great thing about this phone is that you grab it with both hands and so the game-assigned keys on the keyboard (the game keys have different color than the rest of the keys) are easy to reach and usability feels a lot like a game pad.
This phone has a few problems. The biggest problem for me was the lack of “local” communications: no IrDA, no Bluetooth. It gets worse: the phone is not supported by Nokia’s own phone application (the Oxygen manager requires you buy an f-bus convertor cable to support the phone, apparently). There is only an “audio manager” app available, which is kind of useless as the phone is already mounted as a USB storage device anyway and so uploading music files is as simple as drag-and-drop.
But when it comes on uploading, let’s say, games or wallpapers or images, there is no good way of doing so. To send images/wallpapers to your phone you have to send an MMS to yourself or download them off the web (there is no way you can do it via your PC), while installing games you have to place them on the /Applications folder of the MMC card, and then install them from there (placing them on a Games folder doesn’t work).
Unfortunately, only about 30 applications and 30 games are allowed to be installed at the same time (which makes it only 30 overall *if* you didn’t download the games off the web and instead you tried manual installation, as the games are installed under /Applications). Games and apps use ~6 MB of “shared” memory and they can’t use the whole MMC card for storage, which instead is given to music and recordings.
There’s also a small annoyance with the MMC storage: if you use a 512 MB or 1 GB MMC card (which they are compatible btw) and you drop all your mp3s in there, the phone will only see about 128 of the files and folders. This is a FAT file system limitation (which exists for more than two decades) and the only way to go around it is to create folders with songs in them and place the playlists on the music folder of the MMC card (make sure your playlists have relative paths in them and not absolute).
The last problem is more… political than the rest. Nokia decided to use their own, proprietary, headphone jack which means that you will have to either purchase a convertor to use your (better) headphones, or buy a better Nokia headphone model. I don’t foresee many people staying with the default one-ear earphone.
As a phone, the Nokia 3300 is a good choice, with biggest problems the lack of local communications and desktop application to manage the phone’s data. But ultimately, it does the job well.
As a music device, the 3300 fares pretty well against the current *flash* mp3 players. It features a large display (for a flash mp3 player), an FM radio and recording capabilities, and it has a good sound quality. Coupling it with the phone/gaming functionality, and for just $80 (that you could buy that phone these days) makes it a great buy. Of course, hard-disk based mp3 players are still a better choice and they will remain so for a long time but if you are in the market of a flash mp3 player and you wouldn’t mind a [new] cellphone with excellent IM/messaging capabilities, get the Nokia 3300 for sure.
Update Sep 5th 2005: The phone does NOT work in Europe, at least not in Germany or Greece that I tried it. It is dual band and it works on USAs’ GSM bands only.
Shame about the choice of music…